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Towards a Qualitative Catalogue of Social Indicators for Italy

by Giampaolo Nuvolati

This article deals with a research project that is concerned with the establishment of an information system focusing on the description of different types of social indicators for different concerns available in Italy today.

During the last two decades the number of agencies, public or private, that produce and distribute social data has become greater and greater. Nevertheless the map of sources and data available today is not clear enough to facilitate easy access to and utilization of them. In other words, although there is a huge amount of basic statistics and social indicators, it is still difficult for many students, researchers, public administrators and private users to handle the data. The imbalance between the quantity of data and their adequate use is evident. It is one of the main causes for the crisis the Movement of Social Indicators is faced with today. The increase in different computer networks and corresponding skills acquired by researchers was also not completely successful in determining a more profitable use of social indicators. As a matter of fact, many different problems with collecting, cleaning, updating, accessing and interpreting data are very often reported by more careful scientists.

This article intends to stress the importance of developing a concept. This concept is that most of the information available today is not really statistical- or social indicators-oriented but rather database- or statistical book-oriented. In other words, it is quite easy for a researcher to know what kind of data or social indicators he/she can find in a statistical book or in an database, but it is much more difficult to know where to find the specific data or social indicators and their characteristics he/she is interested in for studying particular phenomena. This means that a researcher needs to explore different statistical books or databases every time he/she wants to find or build up specific social indicators. Every time he/she has to verify the characteristics of social indicators in terms of validity, reliability, comparability, timeliness, and so on.

By SIOI (Social Indicators-Oriented Information) I mean a set of information useful for describing the principal qualitative characteristics of indicators (or basic statistics) for a number of social concerns. It also outlines the way to access these data. I think that a periodically published catalogue including different pieces of information on type and quality of social indicators and data available from different sources might form an interesting starting point for developing empirical researches in social sciences. In building up such a catalogue (in the following called SIOI) we basically have to solve two main problems. The first one regards the type of characteristics of social indicators that we want to include in our file, the second one the number of indicators that we want to consider. We have a very large amount of characteristics and an almost infinite number of social indicators.

Here I am comparing different studies and relative methods for describing different indicators or data in a qualitative way. I am also defining a general list of social indicators which will form an interesting starting point. The realization of such SIOI catalogues of the characteristics of data or social indicators will depend on a more profitable harmonization of the activities of institutional and private statistical agencies (production and distribution of data: quantity of social indicators), of the academic researchers and other users (analysis of data: quality selection and interpretation of social indicators). This means, on the one hand: to take the census of the different national or local data source existing but not always known; on the other: to support coordinated studies on critical descriptions, with common criteria, of different social indicators for different social concerns. Steps for the realization of a SIOI catalogue would be:

  • Complete list of the data source
  • Complete list of the available data in each source
  • Qualitative description of some criteria of data or social indicators for different selected social concerns
  • Information on the quality of data and the way to access it given to the users
  • Distribution of the catalogue (book or floppy disk)

Examples of general criteria used to describe data or social indicators in various sources are:

Social Indicators: quality of data; relation to other variables; breadth of comparability; usefulness. Source: Rossi and Gilmartin (1980).

Socio-economic Statistics: data disaggregability; data periodicity and accessibility; general areas treated. Source: IReR (Istituto Regionale di Ricerca della Lombardia) (1986).

Socio-economic Statistics: subject; sub-categories; units of measurement; whether or not publications contain time series and, if so, frequency; sources (give INSTAT publication code and table identifier). Source: International Statistical Source (1995).

Other criteria for the differentiation of social indicators: level of analysis; function; specific concerns; statistical procedures. Source: General literature on social indicators.

Dr. Giampaolo Nuvolati
University of Mannheim, MZES-EURODATA, D-68131 Mannheim

EURODATA Newsletter No.1, p.20